Here’s how to deal with 3 awkward money moments

A man and a woman are sitting on a couch and having a serious conversation.

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Has any of this ever happened to you?

Key points

  • Talking about money more often can remove stigma and embarrassment, but it just can’t stop some people from asking questions you’d rather not answer.
  • Be polite and don’t feel pressured to engage with anyone if you’re not comfortable.
  • Some awkward money situations can be planned in advance.

Money is a deeply personal subject for many people, and just like religion and politics, sometimes talking about it can cause embarrassment or even ruin dinner. Besides, not everyone has enough money, and speaking from experience, dealing with financial inequality in your everyday life can cause some bad feelings. Talking about money more often (say, with friends) definitely helps, but we certainly have a long way to go if we’re ever going to be completely comfortable comparing bank balances and credit scores.

In the meantime, here’s how to enter a few common money scenarios that might keep you up at night. Keep in mind that some of these can be solved with a little advance planning, so keep these ideas in mind the next time you’re invited to Thanksgiving or someone’s birthday dinner.

1. ‘How much money do you make?’

While talking about pay in the workplace can be good for many reasons, including addressing pay disparities based on race and gender, it’s still a tricky situation to face out of the blue. Plus, you might not get this question from a co-worker at your same job trying to build a case for a raise, but from your future in-laws at Thanksgiving dinner. If you’re asked about your salary and you don’t want to discuss it, what should you do?

This is your chance to extend the courtesy that the questioner chose to ignore. If the question is from a curious relative, you can smile and say something like, “I make enough to live on!” At this point, try changing the subject – and hope the questioner remembers their manners. If you want to get back at them, try to be a straight back. “Why do you ask?” The question can come from a place of genuine concern, especially in the case of future in-laws who may wonder about your financial viability to be paired with their child.

I’m not saying it’s okay in this case either, but generational differences and protectiveness may be fueling the issue. In this case, if they continue to yell, you may need to be more firm in your assertion that you don’t want to talk about it. Family holidays can certainly be a minefield, and it’s best to connect with your significant other ahead of time so you have a strategy going into the situation. Good luck.

2. ‘Let’s split the bill!’

This is fun. You went out with some friends, probably for a birthday party, and you ordered, say, chicken — while others in your party went wild and got lobster and a few expensive cocktails. Now you are asked to split the bill equally and shell out some of your hard earned money to subsidize their dinners. Unfortunately, this is a situation where you may end up looking like a jerk, but your bank account will definitely thank you for being responsible with money. And your friends will forgive you, if they are really your friends.

Be the nagging voice that says, “I only had chicken and coke, and I can only afford to cover what I ordered and my portion of the tip.” Look at the itemized bill and pay what you got, and if the others want to split the rest evenly, they are free. This is another situation where you can kill awkwardness in advance. Ask the waiters at the restaurant for your special check before anyone has a chance to say they want to split the bill evenly. You can also take out the cash ahead of time and be prepared to just cut back on your meals and pretend you left your credit card at home.

3. ‘Can I borrow some money from you?’

Lending money to friends and family is never a good idea, especially if you’re not sure they’ll be able to pay you back. That said, you may decide to do so if your financial situation is good (say, you have no credit card debt and have a solid emergency fund). If you are not in such good financial shape yourself, it is easier to refuse such a request.

However, if your finances are in good shape and the person asking you knows that, it will be harder to say you can’t change. Approach with caution, and if you know the person won’t be able to pay you back in time or has some dangerous financial habits you’re not willing to participate in, politely (but firmly) say no and try not to feel guilty. You can refer them to helpful money management resources. And if you do decide to give a loan, set a repayment schedule and clear terms so you have something in writing to make things easier for you and the borrower.

Unfortunately, financial awkwardness often occurs in adult life, and if you’ve never faced one of these situations before, just wait. Keeping a cool head at this point and thinking ahead to find ways to get rid of the inconvenience can help. Ultimately, you are responsible for your finances and should feel fully empowered to stand up for yourself when someone tries to take advantage of your giving nature.

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